On 4th March 2105, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster spoke in a debate on the new Single Use Carrier Bags Charges Order. The Bishop spoke to support the Government in their plans to introduce a charge for single use carrier bags. Bishop Peter also asked why the Government did not propose to introduce a similar scheme to those which already existed in other parts of the UK. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Lord De Mauley responded for the Government during the debate and address the Bishop’s questions. The full reply can be found below.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: I am sure that one would not want a bishop to put himself forward as a paragon of virtue, but I have in my hand a bag that I have used for the last 20 years, which my Danish mother-in-law bought in Copenhagen. It is a shopping bag, and I walk around your Lordships’ House with it. There it is. I have two of them, which I treat as one might treat one’s pet cat or dog.
I welcome the order and hope that cathedral shops, which do not employ anything like 250 people, and other such places involved in the life of the church, will join the spirit of the change, make the charge and not just pocket the benefits for their own charitable purposes.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Will the exemptions in this order parallel exemptions that apply in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland? If not, why are some greater than others? It would be helpful to have that information and the logic of that. Also, the figure of 250 seems quite high. How easily would the Government be open to a reduction in that figure? Indeed, what is the equivalent figure in the other parts of the United Kingdom? Are other materials used in packaging single-use? Lots of vegetables are presented in plastic packaging that is essentially single-use. As I look around the roadsides at this time of year, when you especially see all the plastic debris before spring comes, the litter is by no means only single-use plastic bags from supermarkets.
My final question relates to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. If a plastic bag biodegrades, what does it biodegrade into? I had a misspent youth as a chemist and my guess is that the bag biodegrades into carbon dioxide, inasmuch as there is carbon in the plastic. Other people here will probably have greater scientific skills than me, but that is what happens. When plastic biodegrades, the carbon in the plastic becomes carbon dioxide—as I understand it and unless I can be corrected. Why make this order under the Climate Change Act and provide an exemption for biodegradable bags when they biodegrade into carbon dioxide? That is, if I have got my primitive chemistry correct, some decades on from when I last practised. I want to welcome this but some broader questions should be asked around the order.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their comments, but in particular I thank those noble Lords who have given at least the partial support that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, offered. I will see how many of noble Lords’ questions and comments I can address, bearing in mind that our process may shortly be interrupted. However, I will see how far I can get…..
…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester asked about the exemptions in the order and whether they were the same as in other UK countries. My noble friend Lord Holmes asked a similar question. We looked carefully at the Welsh scheme but decided to put forward a scheme that is better suited to the local circumstances in England. We have therefore opted to exempt SMEs and paper bags, unlike in Wales and Scotland, and believe that it is better not to impose administrative burdens on SMEs. Paper bags are also not so widely used by the big supermarkets.
My noble friend Lord Ridley evidenced some scepticism over the figure of £780 million in the impact assessment. We have drafted a full impact assessment, which is available on the government website. It shows the expected impacts of the charge on consumers, businesses and others affected by it. Using the Government’s standard procedures for these things, the total net impact of the scheme over 10 years is calculated to be a positive benefit of more than £780 million. That figure includes savings from reduced costs associated with littering and carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about a bag of oranges. I can tell him that bags used solely to carry unwrapped food are exempt from the charge.
My noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asked how this fits with EU law and whether one can exclude one type of bag over another. In fact, our scheme fits very well and is compatible with EU law. Indeed, there is a current EU proposal to take action specifically on plastic bags. I hope I have addressed most if not all of noble Lords’ questions. If I have not, I shall of course scrutinise Hansard and write to them.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, will the Minister confirm for the record that biodegradable bags degrade into carbon dioxide from their carbon content?
Lord De Mauley: Yes, I am quite sure that the right reverend Prelate’s chemistry is still current in that regard.